The election of Donald Trump was met with the collective tantrum of a juvenile #resistance, a too-obvious reactionary buzzword around whose glow quickly gathered the moths of youthful progressivism, eager for the validation of their peers. It meant nothing. It asked nothing of its members other than, perhaps, to yell into the Twitterverse, buy a bumper sticker, and vote Democrat (which they would have done in any case). It was loud. It was all froth. And we could all see through it. Yet the hashtag-resistance, despite its vague plea to hashtag-resist, almost called enough attention to itself to make us think it was the real resistance—and if it was, well then, Trump might just have been the champion we needed after all. The hashtag-resistance almost made us forget that Trump really is a corrupt and smutty character.
But in the midst of this, hidden in the shadow of Women’s Marches and Supreme Court justice nomination madness, there was a quieter resistance at work, and it was of much greater importance.
Donald Trump broke into the Republican party as an unexpected intrusion. At first (2012), he was a joke. Next time around, in 2016, he was not taken seriously at first. This was not only because he had never been elected to so much as dog catcher, but also because he wasn’t a real conservative. There was a hope that he would lose a few primaries, then drop out. But he didn’t. He won, and he kept on winning. For many conservatives, Trump’s success in the primaries was impossible to understand. It was also worrisome because Trump did not represent normal Republican values. Nor did he represent normal family values, presumably important to Republicans. Worse, he cared nothing for the values of common decency. And this seemed to be his magic key to winning. The more he used insults and mockery, the more he played loose with the truth, the more he took to Twitter to belittle opponents, the more he won. And the more momentum Trump gained, the more Republican politicians realized they had to get on board or get left behind.
This meant that politicians who had previously voiced strong opposition to Trump, such as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan, to name a few, eventually got on the Trump train. This creates pressure for everyone else in the party to do the same. Once Trump won the general election, you either had to be all in on Trump or be accused of betrayal and of aiding the enemy—the Democrats. President Trump insists on absolute loyalty from all those in his party and from those who work with him, as the last three years have shown. Nothing less will do. Solidarity among Republicans, understood as protection of President Trump, has become more important than honesty, justice, truth, or goodness. The reasons for this are varied and there’s a good deal of psychology about it. Power corrupts. And as Jonah Goldberg has repeatedly pointed out, this corruption is not as much of the person in power, but of those around the person in power who want to be sure they stay inside that sphere of power. People will compromise their ethics in order to avoid falling out of the good graces of the one in the position of power.
Republican politicians have done this in droves in order to defend Donald Trump. His corrupting influence has been all but unchecked. Writing for The Dispatch, conservative lawyer and social commentator David French says this:
Why did Democrats adore Bill Clinton so much? After all, if you talked to the average Democrat in the weeks and months after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and told them that in a few short years they’d be circling their wagons around a man who lied under oath in a sexual harassment case and who faced a strongly corroborated rape claim, they’d say, “Surely not. We respect women.”
But Bill Clinton was a winner. He ended the 12-year Reagan/Bush dynasty. He humiliated Newt Gingrich.
We also know that the people are turning a blind eye to presidential misdeeds. Fear and hatred of the other side trumps any concern for truth and dignity on their own. The president has permission to do as he wills, so long as he wins.
Sure, the president’s partisan defenders will promise they were principled. But we know the truth. We know that if you switched the parties but kept all the facts the same, we’d have seen essentially the same outcome. There would be a few members of Congress who’d remain true to their convictions, but only a few. Every single angry Republican taking to Fox to furiously defend Trump would be impeaching a Democratic president under identical facts. Many of the Democrats who impeached Trump worked mightily to keep Bill Clinton in the Oval Office.
“The lesson here is clear,” French reasons. “Just win, baby. Just win, and we’ll love you. We’ll defend you. And as we do, we’ll enrage our fellow citizens with our merry hypocrisy. Until it is their turn to rule, and then we’ll wonder why they won’t uphold the principles we so gleefully discarded.” The pressure is on. Protect the President of your party, whether he is guilty or not. This mentality affects almost everyone. It’s easy for me to criticize, but it would be hard for an elected Republican to stand up to Trump at the risk of losing reelection and facing the opprobrium of their peers in Congress.
But there is at least one Republican who chose truth over Trump. Unlike the bumper sticker resistance of the activist left, Romney’s was not the resistance of a two-year-old presented with a plate of peas. Romney’s resistance has meaning. What he has resisted is the constant call to follow all his close colleagues, and probably most of his constituents, into the marsh of Trumpism. Not to do so, will make him an object of derision and possibly cost him his Senate seat. But he hasn’t. In March of 2016, when Trump was looking like he might win the GOP nomination and others were making their peace with it, Mitt Romney was there to warn us about the consequences. In the wake of the disturbing findings of the Mueller Report, Mitt Romney alone dared to break ranks by condemning the dishonesty and misdirection within the President’s campaign team. And now, as the impeachment proceedings revealed the President’s misconduct, Romney has resisted the pressure to vote in lockstep with his own party, to protect the leader of his party, to stand in solidarity. Instead, he has opened himself up to criticism and scorn for choosing integrity. He voted to impeach. And he did this for one reason: he believed the evidence showed that the President committed an impeachable offense. It wasn’t personal. And it wasn’t about party. It was about the facts, and about Romney’s solemn duty to vote in accordance with the facts as he understood them. This is the real resistance, a quiet inflexibility that is willing to upset the members of one’s own tribe, to one’s own immediate detriment, in order to do what one believes is right.
My wife made the observation that Mitt Romney is one of only a few members of either house of Congress who would have voted the same way had the President been a Democrat. I thought about that for a while. I’m afraid that may be true.